Today’s 1 Minute Parenting tip is on perfection and perfectionist tendencies- How do we handle it in our children and where does it come from?

By nature, I am a perfectionist and guess what?  My kids almost were too…

Those of you who have children who are perfectionists know how much pressure they put on themselves, and unfortunately, perfectionism in children is now an epidemic with daily stories of suicide, breakdowns and depression in our young people.

For me, my perfectionism started to “rub off” on my kids in ways that I thought were relatively benign, such as getting really mad when my daughter would spill her milk or accidently drop something on the floor.  I recall those automatic reactions just as something that I was “supposed” to do (learned from my dad) – get pissed off at them for making a mistake.  When my oldest was 5, it grew into me intently questioning her about not getting the “perfect” daily grade at school and expecting other things from her such as being able to sit quietly (and perfectly) for long periods of time.

Eventually I noticed that my “automatic responses” were beginning to have a negative effect on her.  She began to cry when she didn’t get the “perfect” grade or accidently spilled her milk.   She began to avoid trying new things for fear she wouldn’t do them “right”.   She would ask me to draw an animal for her because she “couldn’t do it”, even though she loved to draw.  It began to make me sad for her that she was already “turning into a perfectionist” and at the time, I didn’t understand how much of an effect my reactions had on her.

Through my training with Positive Discipline and Adlerian Psychology, I now know that children are constantly making choices about how they can best achieve belonging and significance in their lives and that the majority of their beliefs about themselves are picked up from us.  It is about what they think we think about them that has a huge influence upon them and their development.  The message my daughter was getting through my automatic reactions was that she wasn’t allowed to make mistakes because she had to be “perfect” in order to achieve belonging and significance within our family.

When I was a kid, being “perfect” earned me a lot of praise, but also gave me low self-esteem (because I was always relying on others for approval of my perfection), fear (about not being perfect), and uncertainty (about taking risks).  My parents also taught me that in order to be perfect; I had to always overprepare- for anything and everything because it wouldn’t be ok to forget something or not be perfect- (exhausting!).

So, what did I do?  Positive Discipline has an exercise called Top Card whereby I learned a lot about what I do when I am stressed and what I am “putting out there”.  Basically, it is at these times when I am in my highest “perfectionism” mode.  So I found that first and foremost I had to take a look at my own behavior and expectations.  If we consciously think about it, truly, who in this world is perfect?  Don’t we as adults make mistakes all the time?  (Like when I forgot to mention my free coaching calls to a huge audience, or when I accidently call my child the wrong name!)  Unfortunately, our cultural expectations don’t support this thinking and that can make it challenging:  Perfect skin, perfect body, perfect weight, perfect Kardashian, perfect person, right?   Wrong, even those Kardashians are not perfect!

Next, I had to give my girls permission to make mistakes!   And, even more importantly, make it ok for them to learn from their mistakes in a supportive environment.  YIKES!  VERY challenging for us perfectionists!  Why?  Stress, our own expectations, possible unknown developmental expectations (what is appropriate and what is not) fast paced society, buttons being pushed, culture, and upbringing.  All things that are hard to fight against as a parent.

But, what were the benefits of my doing this for my child?  I like to think long term:  She would become a good team player (able to work well with others and get help from others without having to “hide” mistakes), she’d be kinder to herself, she’d be able to better LEARN from her mistakes if they are more acceptable (most great entrepreneurs do this!), she’d try more new things without fear, she’d maintain her authentic voice vs. being a “people pleaser”, she’d strive for success for the sake of herself rather than others.  And the list goes on and on…. (Note:  As I put this on paper, I can see even more clearly how this is one of the main KEYS to SUCCESS in our kids.  Wow.  )

So, three years later, is my daughter still a perfectionist?  Fortunately she no longer cries over a mediocre grade or spilled milk.  She does now get straight A’s, but I believe it is because of her belief in herself and her efforts vs. the need to be perfect.  I would say that she still has some traits (she is the oldest and the older children are generally more “perfectionist”.)  But, the biggest and best thing that I have noticed is that she is being kinder to herself and giving herself more of a break than she used to, and that is beautiful thing for her and for me too.

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Hope this helps, -Paige